The Great Catsby

Art Deco Cat Flap

Another personal project I’ve worked on during the 2020 pandemic has been an entirely useless Art Deco cat flap! It’s useless on two levels: firstly because I don’t have a cat to flap through it, and secondly because I don’t think it would hold up to a cat’s claws or the elements here in Blighty.

I’ve made another nice video about it, featuring the entire making process. It’s really real stained glass! It was a total push out of my making comfort zone, and I feel quite rewarded for it.

My Solar Robot

My solar robot, sitting on the windowsill, harvesting sunlite

If anybody else is still out there blogging in 2020, I’m sure the last thing anyone needs is a post about the impact of Coronavirus and the public lockdowns that have ensued. I have to acknowledge it though, and stress that I’m trying to not take for granted the fact that I’ve been doing quite well under the circumstances.

I told my dad on a phone call earlier this summer that it’s the introvert’s time to shine: working from home is how I’ve always done it, and doing things like trying to work out cycle routes where I would encounter as few other people as possible is exactly my kind of task.

I haven’t let my foot off the creative accelerator either. It’s physically small, but my biggest personal project this summer has been a robot I have made out of some tiny solar panels I ordered from China, a can of chickpeas, and a tiny little computer.

All he does is rotate his arms to collect power, so he can use that power to rotate his arms again the next day: a perfectly useless little machine!

The project took a couple of months of simmering, and I made a nice little video of the project. A few recent experiences have encouraged me to get over the hump of the sound of my own voice, so I have narrated this video, and I think I’ve done a nice job! I’m proud of the little robot, and proud of the video I’ve made, so I’d love for you to give a couple of minutes to watch it.

Super Victory

I had a small victory this summer in the form of finally getting Hospital Records’ Spotify playlists rebranded. I’m an old man and still haven’t bought into the value of streaming services, so I’ve never had to personally interface with these playlists, but they have been a bit of a bugbear of mine for a while.

They seemed to crop up on my jobs radar for Hospital every eighteen months or so for the past few years – I would be asked to redesign them, I would mock something up, then it would fizzle out and they’d either make something else in-house or just leave whatever was there. Finally word came from higher-up though, and I was given free reign to redo them more thoughtfully.

Despite Akzidenz Grotesk always being a crucial part of Hospital’s identity, we had never given much time to the Super weight of the font, until now. I pulled through some of the elements from my illustrated NHS300 cover into these playlists too.

A series of six thematic cover designs for Hospital Records' Spotify playlists

The x-ray for the house party particularly tickles me – it might just seem like a bit of a medical non-sequitur, but really it makes me think of my big brother and his university days: I don’t think it was strictly a house party, but there was definitely a party he went to where he ended up breaking a bone. It just feels like the sort of inevitability of something that would happen at a wild house party!

I’m really happy to have finally tidied these up and not had them slip down the back of the sofa *again*! I love being able to create little series like this too!

Lo; post-it note book number five!

It’s the customary ‘I’ve filled up another post-it book!’ post!

Book number five spans from late 2018 to summer 2019 – about a year and a half. Across that time, I put 720 notes into my book, at a rate of at least one a day, as one gets put on the social medias every day too.

Every page from my fifth sketchbook full of illustrated post-it notes

It’s not just the dailies though – I use post-it notes to sketch out other things too. In this looping, blink-of-the-eye video, I’ve tried to highlight some of the notes that have already become other things.

These books are such a valuable trove of ideas for me, I’m sure more is going to come of them over time!

A simple message

I was thinking about how the abysmal state of some of my printing screens would yield some mega grunge. I put that thought to the test today in the form of a little hand-lettered design with a big message.

Peace signs

I really like how this mini-series turned out. Send me an email or an Instagram message if you’d like to buy one – I only did twelve of them! They’re printed on 28x38cm watercolour paper, so they’re a little smaller than A3. £15 including postage!

Picture of one of my peace screenprints in a frame on my wall

Epitaph for a record label

NHS381 marks a sad moment in my music industry design career. I’m no stranger to design and identity projects for labels that have had short runs and naturally fizzled out, but Med School is the first one to very firmly close its proverbial doors after more than a decade.

It came as a bit of a shock to me – and everyone, including the decision-makers, I think, to wind down the label at just shy of 100 releases. It was a hell of a thirteen-year run, but the decision was made, and Hospital decided the best way to acknowledge the label and its exploits should be in the form of a ‘Graduation’ LP on the big label.

The artwork project proved to be a bit of a battle, but in the end my awkward illustration skillz saved the day, and we ended up with something we all liked. Below is an alternative cut in classic Med School scrubs-green, which didn’t quite win the office popular vote over the full-colour version, but it’s the one I prefer anyway.

Alternative, classic-green Med School Graduation record cover

Beside the Graduation LP, though, it’s worth a moment to look back at the Med School design history, if a little critically. Continue reading “Epitaph for a record label”

Waschmann spins again

My new attempt at an old painting of a spaceman-washing-machine

It feels a little silly to paint a picture I already painted a few years ago, but the Waschmann caught my attention again recently. I was thinking about how my attempt at contrasting a matte space sky with a glossy robot body didn’t really work on the canvas surface. I decided I’d give it another go on a harder surface, and it would be a good excuse to have another go with Stuart Semple’s Black 2.0 paint (and by funny coincidence I then heard it featured on 99 Percent Invisible recently too). I’ve got to say – the Black 2.0 paint is super disappointing. The best thing about it is how it photographs, as it’s very easy to blow it out to 100% black when post-processing, but in person it’s laughably not-black. Even regular old System 3 process black is dramatically darker to the human eye, even with a gloss glaze over it. I hope Semple’s Black 3.0 paint is an improvement, but I’m less inclined to try it considering how disappointed I am by the 2.0.

My old attempt at painting the Waschmann

My painting is a little better anyway – it’s a lot more subtle without the thick black outlines.

Screen star

Screenprinted illustration of a castle on a hill

I first encountered screenprinting at the London College of Printing (now LCC), where I was given an introduction to the method, before I dropped out of my course there and set off on this terrible career of mine. I loved spending time in the printing studios at LCP, and at the time, it was my biggest regret about never going back. A couple more flirtations followed (including a misguided attempt at making my own UV lightbox and photosensitising screens that didn’t go very well), and the last time I really tried to do any screenprinting was now somehow about twelve years ago.

My significant other got me some new screens and squeegees for my birthday this year, so I have spent the past couple of months teaching myself how to do it again. It took a couple of attempts at a couple of methods, but I am pleasantly surprised with my eventual results. This is a (nine-minute) video of the entire process.

I picked an illustration idea from the post-it archive and got to work tracing it, separating it into the two-colour print I had imagined, and scaling it for the size of print I wanted to make. Once that was prepared, I made my first attempt at preparing the screens.

The drawing fluid and screen block method was a pretty miserable failure for me, but it’s hard to tell how much of it was user-error, how much was because my mediums were old enough to walk themselves to secondary school, and how much was just the limitation of the technique. The drawing fluid part went OK, but though the screen block didn’t seem thicker than I remembered it being when it was new, it looked a lot thicker than what I had seen in other demonstrative videos on YouTube. It took ages to dry, began crumbling even when washing out the drawing fluid, and generally yielded miserably blurry, bleedy results.

After sulking for a bit, I heard about a technique using sticky vinyl and a plotter-cutter. I don’t have a plotter-cutter, but I am a patient person with a Stanley knife, so I gave it a shot. To quote Brian Butterfield, the results have been incredible. There was still plenty to learn though – in particular, the seagulls in the design ended up coming off the first screen because I think I handled their vinyl cutout pieces too much (better get the tweezers out!), so half of the prints don’t have the gulls in them at all.

Also, my favourite 3M 3434 blue painter’s tape is too sticky to transfer the smaller details to a screen, so that required an intense tweezer job too. I was convinced this was going to fail like the seagulls, so I didn’t bother recording that part of the process. I proved myself wrong; it held up way better than the gulls, and yielded brilliant results that even survived the washing of the screen at the end of the run. My next port of call would be to try some low-tack vinyl transfer tape, but that’s another project for another project.

There is still also a lot to be improved with regard to registration, but I have a couple of ideas for addressing that. I really liked the unpredictable results from my badly-mixed paint streaking through the blue layer, and that is a technique I will also do more to exploit in future printing projects. In all, it’s only a dozen prints, but each one is a little bit different, which I love – if they were all perfect then it wouldn’t have been worth it and they may as well have been giclee prints.

I have been sucked into the world of restoration videos on YouTube recently, particularly the channel of Hand Tool Rescue. The way I put this video together is a little inspired by his (and the whole subgenre’s) work. Making video is lots of work, and lots of overhead on disk space.

If you’d like to buy one of these prints you can email me at ricky@trickartt.com. They are 20x15cm / 8×6”, which is a standard picture frame size.

Wave and spin

Behold my latest record cover! Long-time collaborator Logistics has a habit of kindling inspiration in me, usually by bringing his music with some kind of twentieth-century art or design reference point that is totally in my wheelhouse.

Logistics - Waveforms EP cover

For this EP, Logistics gave me some images of library music sleeves, so I took these reference points and set about creating a unique piece of artwork that (hopefully) feels like it could be part of the same niche. I came up with a scheme to do a spin painting for the artwork. The technique is wildly unpredictable, and (as is the way in the topsy-turvy world of independent music) the constraints didn’t afford the luxury of creating an entire spin-painting turntable, but I managed to cobble together a setup using my power drill, some scraps of wood, and my communal back-garden on a sunny day.

The trial-and-error began. I discovered that acrylic paint was too thick and ink was too thin, but paint from a spray-can was just about the right consistency to drift with the centrifugal forces, but still stay opaque. A few attempts later I was starting to get results I was happy with.

A little colour-shifting later, the results pleased the label and Logistics himself, so it was on to the packaging details. The cover design was divided into thirds, so I found a slightly abstract way to divide the centre labels into thirds too.

Waveforms EP centre label

Because this is a cover for Hospital’s most-prolific musician and the reference point for the artwork was library music, I also went to the effort of presenting the inner sleeve as a library of Logistics’ music in itself. I combed through the entire back catalogue, fought it into a sensible (again thirds-based) layout, and after a bit of to-and-fro over what should and shouldn’t be included where, we have another satisfying detail for the project!

The Logistics Music Library, 2019

The record is available on Hospital Records now.

What’s In The Box?

2019 has been a productive year so far, and has featured a few more ambitious music-packaging projects than I usually get the pleasure of contributing toward. The project I’ve been most excited by this year has finally become real:

Jet Star meets Hospital stopmotion

Jet Star Meets Hospital is a collaboration album between Drum & Bass record-label-and-good-friends Hospital Records, and legendary reggae record label Jet Star Music. The album has been a long time coming. We have all worked on it for multiple years, through various moments of flipflopping between looking like it’s definitely going to happen and looking like it’s never going to see the light of day, but it’s finally here!

JSMH Dinked Centre Labels

The physical product is special. It’s eight 7″ 45RPM records, each of which have been ‘dinked’ (which means they have the huge centre holes, like classic reggae 7″s have). It’s a full version of the album on CD in a digipak packaging. It’s a pair of exclusive 7″ Hospital logo slipmats in a unique ‘Surgical Slippers’ packaging. And because centre holes are big and label copy is long for collaboration records, it’s also a minuiature poster/flyer of the artwork and credits too. And all of this is wrapped up in a miniature record box adorned with the artwork, and ready to fill with the rest of your 45RPM record collection.

Inside the JSMH box

It’s not often I get to design a package with so many individual parts, but doing all the pieces proved to be the easy bit. As is often the case in my world, the much harder part is the creative idea. We didn’t want to go too dumb with the reggae clichés, so we agreed on a cover design approach featuring all the names of the artists involved in the album. I found a nice old record sleeve from the seventies I liked as a starting point, but quickly found that fitting so many names around a central title using pre-designed type an unnecessarily difficult task, so quickly changed my approach to doing it all by hand.

JSMH Cover Design Process

This idea was sound, but direction came from Hospital to make the title more pronounced and to use this as an excuse to emphasise the 7″ format of the project, so we did that. Everyone on the Hospital side was happy, but when Jet Star saw it, they were concerned that it looked too much like one of their competitors’ albums, so back to the drawing board I went. The solution I ended up finding was to not throw all my nice hand-drawn type out completely, but to change its layout, wrapping it around the centre-label design in the middle. The idea got signed off, and after a few more foolish changes, we were approved enough for me to get working on everything else.

JSMH Box

Many elements of the package (the centre labels in particular) were inspired by some of Jet Star’s designs from the seventies. Using these and a little of my own inventiveness, the package came together like a dream. I was very excited to assemble my own box on a visit to Hospital’s offices earlier this month, and I’m very proud of the work!

 
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